Umatilla County is cutting its drug court program due to reductions in funding from the state. The move is effective June 30 and means laying off six employees.
Larry Givens, chairman of the Umatilla County Board of Commissioners, said the county has a general policy of not backfilling when the state stops providing money.
“We’ve seen that happen time and time again,” Givens said, “ ... and we’re at the point we can’t keep doing that.”
Drug court provides court supervised alcohol and drug treatment for offenders. County counsel Doug Olsen said the decision to end the program came Wednesday from the local public safety coordinating council, the body of law enforcement and community leaders responsible for recommending to county commissioners how to use state resources to serve the local offender population. Olsen said the county sent layoff notices to four drug court alcohol and drug councilors and two staff in the Community Justice Department, which oversees the court.
Dale Primmer, director of Community Justice who is also a Pendleton city councilor, said eliminating drug court resulted from an unfortunate budget trend and shows the state-wide funding gap of $1.8 billion hits local services.
Primmer recalled the local public safety coordinating council applied for and received a grant from the Oregon Criminal Justice Commission to begin drug court in 2006. That grant covered 100 percent of the cost of the court and provided contributions to help facilitate the program.
Around 2010, he said, the state moved to a funding model of providing $14 per day per drug court participant, but that only applied to offenders serving parole and probation. Primmer said that was about 140 people, and Community Justice covered the budget difference to keep the court going.
The state in the last biennium dropped the rate to $12, he said, and Community Justice used about $273,000 to bridge the funding gap. In this biennium, he said, the state is offering $9 per day per participant, and drug court has 90 people.
“So not only is the rate substantially reduced, so is the total people being served,” Primmer said.
Last biennium, the county received about $976,000 to support drug court, and the next biennium would be about $591,000. Primmer said when he ran the numbers on drug court’s total cost, it came out around $516,000 in the hole.
“You take three bienniums in a row when the budget keeps getting cut ... you get to the point when the gap becomes too wide,” he said.
He took the numbers Wednesday to the coordinating council, where he presented a few scenarios.
Community Justice could cover the cost of drug court with money from other programs, such as the day treatment operation for high-risk offenders or treatment for people in the county jail. Or drug court could end, and Community Justice could reevaluate how to best use its resources to serve as many people as possible with an eye toward finding sustainable replacement money to restart drug court in the future.
Ending drug court also comes after a state review found shortcomings in the program.
Primmer said his department asked the state to conduct an evaluation in January to see how well Community Justice implemented drug court and delivered evidence-based practices. A final report is forthcoming, he said, but the summary showed the department scored high in areas related to oversight, policy and assessment.
However, he said, the examination also determined delivery of services and treatment staff characteristics were in the lower ranges of “moderate and needs improvement.”
And the weight of those two categories, he said, brought down the overall evaluation.
Primmer attributed the findings to new staff who are still learning and acquiring training hours to reach state certification. He said he would expect a better result from a follow-up evaluation as the staff gains experience.
That, however, is likely a moot point.
Primmer also stressed ending drug court came down to the money, not the evaluation. He called this an opportunity for the county to “push the reset button” and evaluate how to deliver quality services.
The county also sent pink slips to two staff in the Water Resources Department, but that came from the state’s plan to take over the program. Olsen said at this time the county does not anticipate more cuts.
Givens added, “We’re hopeful this is it.”
Contact Phil Wright at firstname.lastname@example.org or 541-966-0833.